Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Le Devoir speaks up for Hector Langevin

Today practically no one knows who Hector Langevin was, except as the namesake of an imposing stonepile called the Langevin Block in Ottawa.  So he was pretty easy to throw out of the lifeboat last week when the government of Canada wanted a symbolic sacrifice to indigenous anger on National Aboriginal Day. Somehow all the monuments to better known figures such as Macdonald and Cartier remain unchanged.

Le Devoir points out that while Langevin was a longtime member of the Canadian cabinet between 1867 and the 1890s, he had no specific responsibility for indigenous affairs for most of his career.  He was minister of Indian Affairs for about eighteen months in 1868-9, but not when major initiatives like the Indian Act were passed. The DCB biography by Andrée Desilets, which does not skimp on his other failings, covers his involvement in indigenous affairs in a single sentence, which seems about right:
In Ottawa he was also secretary of state and superintendent general of Indian affairs.
It was, in fact, the Canadian government, in the name of and with the support of the Canadian people, who developed the residential schools system, enforced the Indian Act, dispossessed the indigenous people of the prairies (and elsewhere) -- and maintained all these projects for a century or more. As a cabinet minister, Langevin had his share of collective responsibility, of course, but no more than any other from the past or today.

Le Devoir notes that anglophones have held the indigenous affairs portfolio for about 90% of the time, but so far none of them has been singled out for "l’exécution morale."
La politique fédérale de création de pensionnats autochtones a duré 113 ans. Pendant cette période, le ministère des Affaires indiennes n’a été sous la responsabilité d’un francophone que pendant 10 ans, dont 6 sous celle de Jean Chrétien. Donc, 91 % du temps, cette responsabilité a été celle de ministres anglophones. Or, aucun d’entre eux ne fait l’objet d’une compagne de dénigrement semblable à celle qui a conduit à l’exécution morale de l’avant-dernier Père de la Confédération francophone considéré comme fréquentable. Bon cent cinquantième !
If we were moving seriously towards Reconciliation and treaty implementation, maybe we could avoid these misleading acts of scapegoating. In the meantime, look for them to continue.

Update, June 29:  Allan Levine comments:
I agree wholeheartedly with Le Devoir’s position on the matter of removing Hector Langevin’s name from the building. It is yet another and blatant example of political opportunism by Justin Trudeau. Clearly anyone who is head of a cabinet knows that a cabinet minister would never have made such a decision on his own. If you’re going to condemn poor Langevin, then you have start obliterating John A. Macdonald’s name from buildings, schools, highways, etc. etc across the country. Because John A. ultimately approved the decision on creating industrial or residential schools. It would be like a century from now if the Liberal Defense minister Harjit Sajjan was held solely responsible for the current government’s foreign policy in the Middle East—as if Trudeau was an innocent spectator in drafting this policy. It’s absurd. 

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